At our recent Tribal Admissions Roadshow, we had the opportunity to chat to Peter Corbett and Annette Thompson from Edith Cowan University to find out more about their go-live experience with Tribal Admissions. There’s so much to learn from their insights on current admissions trends and challenges, and the importance of an admissions solution that’s up to the task.
Innovative Approaches to Admissions Growth
Edith Cowan University (ECU) is a public research university in Western Australia with 300+ courses and 1500+ staff across two Perth campuses and one regional campus. They have 30,000+ students enrolled, including international students from more than 100 different countries.
In 2019, ECU was experiencing significant increases in applications — and although the growth was welcome, their existing systems were struggling to keep up.
As a modern and innovative institution, ECU was open to new tools and technologies to help improve their processes and gain a competitive advantage. And so, when the opportunity for early access presented itself, the team were eager to explore the new Tribal Admissions software as a potential solution.
Annette Thompson, Senior Admissions Manager at ECU, shared, “In 2019, we first heard about Tribal Admissions. We knew we needed to make a change and there were real opportunities to do things differently.”
High Volumes and Growing Pains
ECU were facing increasing application volumes and a backlog of unprocessed applications. Unprecedented growth meant that both application quality and the student experience were suffering — and it had become overwhelming for the team, too.
Director of Student Administration at ECU, Peter Corbett, said,
“When people come in in the morning, and they see this huge pile of applications they can’t possibly get through, it’s very demotivating.”
Annette explained, “You can't process 68,000 applications in the same way for every person from every region, for every course. And I think it's fair to say turnaround times were poor, the quality of the applicant experience was poor, and we were damaging ECU’s reputation. We needed to have a tool to identify quality and rationalise what we were doing.”
After promising to substantially reduce turnaround times on applications, the admissions team urgently needed a way to manage their growth, automate tasks, and make decisions more efficiently.
COVID-19 and a Rapidly Changing Environment
Aside from the growth they were experiencing, ECU also needed to respond to the changing admissions environment.
Annette Thompson, Senior Admissions Manager at ECU, shared,
“The landscape changes significantly and consistently over time. And you have to be able to manage the change and reflect upon the environment that you're operating in, which can shift considerably from one admission intake to the next.”
The local COVID-19 response and border closures are an obvious example of just how rapidly the environment can shift. From 2020-2022, many students at ECU couldn’t get in or out, which meant that the team had to push a number of applications to future admissions periods. At the same time, ECU reduced the size of their admissions team in order to focus resources in other areas.
“We were concerned that when the borders reopened, we would face an avalanche of applications, and that's precisely what happened — though it was well beyond what anybody expected,” said Annette.
In 2022, ECU processed 68,000 applications, surpassing their previous peak in 2019. At the same time, the admissions team were responsible for domestic admissions, international admissions, processing credit transfers, and articulation arrangements with overseas partners. They realised growing their processing team was unlikely to be supported, so they had to look for other ways to manage their workload.
Seeking Alternatives to Hiring and Training More Staff
Despite seeing an increase in applications, ECU knew that hiring more staff was not a sustainable way to manage their growth. Even offshoring wasn’t an ideal solution, because it still required six months of training to get someone ready to process an international application, and it came with an increased risk of errors. Managing offshore partners also meant more stress for the admissions team who was accountable for their work.
Peter explained, “We offshored some work, but that only solved part of the problem — and there's a huge training overhead that comes with that. And at the end of the day, I'm accountable for what might go wrong, and I don't want to lose any sleep at night.”
It became increasingly clear that the right technology would be the only realistic and sustainable way to solve ECU’s challenges.
“We needed a team who could assess anything with minimum training and little effort, and who could be guided through the assessment process by what we already knew,” shared Annette.
An Easy Choice for ECU
When Tribal approached ECU in 2019 with the opportunity to become early adopters of the new Tribal Admissions solution, it was an easy decision.
This was, in part, because the university was already familiar with Tribal, having used Callista for their student management system and Tribal Submissions to comply with the Australian government’s real-time reporting requirements. So, they were already confident in Tribal’s ability to deliver on the system’s promised flexibility and capabilities.
On top of this, they were keen to capitalise on the competitive advantage of being among the first institutions to use the innovative, new technology.
Peter shared, “ECU is quite an agile university — we're a fairly young university in WA, even in Australian terms. We've got an organisational structure that allows us to be very forward-thinking and responsive to change.”
And of course, the capabilities ticked a lot of boxes. ECU didn’t just want a pretty looking system or a reskin of what they already had. The admissions team needed a system that contained all the right functions and information.
Tribal Admissions would enable ECU to:
Do bulk processing
Make decisions for staff
Speed up processes
Lower training overheads
Retain control and flexibility
The team were particularly eager to access the Decision Engine, as this tool would allow them to clearly define their set admission requirements, like caps, quotas, prerequisites, and targets.
Peter explained, “When you've got higher volumes of applications and the staff are under pressure to make decisions, you can't rely on humans to look at knowledge bases, or to recall specific details about a qualification from a particular country, course, or level. You need something that's making decisions for you.”
Implementing Tribal Admissions
In order to get an initial pilot up and running (for a selection of domestic postgraduate courses), ECU’s admissions team needed to invest some time in configuring the platform. This involved:
Extensively reviewing their business processes
Determining the business rules
Configuring the system
Repeating the process and refining
Going live with the first applicants
Annette shared, “The development was great, but going live was better. As soon as applications started coming through it, it all became more exciting, and it made us want to start pushing forward and making the changes because we could already see the benefits.”
Implementing Tribal Admissions was challenging at times. ECU mentioned that it could be hard to take people away from the core business to focus on configuration — though it was worth it in the end. And the time spent reviewing their business processes and assessment models was something they were always planning to do, irrespective of the admissions system they chose.
“Honestly, the time investment was fairly small and almost embedded in what we were doing, anyway. We used all of those processes to feed into the development of Tribal Admissions,” Annette shared.
Overall, they found that the process of implementing Tribal Admissions was unlike a typical vendor-client relationship but far more collaborative, and allowed the business users a great deal of control and input.
Annette said, “It was a partnership — a development partnership to create something quite exciting.”
A Shift in Thinking that Empower Staff
One of the most significant outcomes from ECU’s implementation of Tribal Admissions was the level of transformation in their approach to admissions. The team genuinely reflected on what they were doing and overhauled their processes.
Peter shared, “We realised we shouldn’t expect to continue doing things the same way in Tribal Admissions. You have to do it differently because if you don't change, you're just doing the same old thing, and will never get out from under it. We had to change our way of thinking, and Tribal started us on that journey.”
One of the stated goals in ECU’s 2022-2026 strategic plan is to empower the talent and potential of their staff — and Tribal Admissions is certainly helping them achieve that. Now that Tribal Admissions is up and running, the team is looking at their work differently. The team is thinking critically about what they want the system to do next.
Unbelievably Fast Processing
Another result is that application processing is now extremely rapid, thanks to the predefined clearance checks and Decision Engine. When new applicants come through, the admissions team simply goes in, validates the qualifications, checks that it meets all the rules, and submits the application to the decision engine, which provides a recommendation.
Annette shared, “The heavy lifting is done before you even open an application. The decision tool and configuration tell us what qualification they have, we validate it, and the underlying reference data tells us if the person is eligible for an offer for the course, based on what we've just validated.”
As a result of these changes to the way they operate, the admissions team no longer have a backlog of applications.
Peter discussed an early experience with Tribal Admissions where a student was quickly processed and received an offer within around 12 hours after applying. That student called ECU’s communication centre because they were concerned they’d been scammed because the offer had come through so fast.
“They couldn't believe that they had submitted the application yesterday and then received an offer today —there must have been a mistake.”
The offer was legitimate — it was simply Tribal Admissions’ rapid processing. But it certainly illustrates how Tribal Admissions can potentially change this part of the student experience. Same or next day offers could soon become normalised for institutions and students.
Business Users Can Adjust Quickly
Another outcome noted by the ECU team is that their business users can make adjustments at a moment’s notice — and aren’t stuck waiting for IT to update the configuration. This is particularly useful when new scenarios arise that aren’t pre-configured in the system.
“We recently had an applicant from a country that we hadn’t covered before, so it wasn’t mapped in the library. Our team (who aren’t from IT backgrounds) can use the system to logically build workflows and business rules because it’s all in plain English,” said Peter.
Improved Staff Retention and Training
ECU believes that implementing the Tribal Admissions system when they did likely had a positive impact on staff retention. They retained their entire admissions team post-COVID, at a time when many institutions were struggling with exhausted and overworked staff.
Annette shared, “People were working under significant pressure but stayed because they felt and believed that we would try something new that would relieve that pressure, and we were working towards the university's goals.”
Staff retention can help to reduce the costs associated with training new team members. Adding to this benefit, ECU also noted that the system was reducing the knowledge and risk associated with checking applicants. This meant that new staff can begin processing applications sooner, with shorter training periods.
The Future of Tribal Admissions for ECU
There are still more features to come from Tribal Admissions, such as managing credit transfers, incorporating international admissions, and using AI to prioritise applications based on historical data.
When ECU informed their agents about some of the system’s future capabilities with AI, Director of Student Administration, Peter Corbett, said that they were incredibly excited about it. But above all, the team is pleased with how Tribal Admissions is already transforming their workflow and capacity.
“What our team is most excited for is actually having time to think — we haven't had that for a long time. It’s all been doing and reacting, but now we’re being proactive and forward-thinking. And as the first university in the world that’s using Tribal Admissions, we see it as a real competitive advantage,” said Annette.
“It's completely changed how we think, how we operate, how we plan, and how the whole team has come along for the journey — there's been no reluctance. And we are very close to meeting our targets in a relatively short amount of time, with limited additional resources.”
Thank you to Peter and Annette for sharing their insights into the global admissions landscape and their experience as early adopters of Tribal Admissions. We look forward to playing an ongoing role in ECU’s continued growth and transformation as an innovative, forward-thinking university.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE: